Navy veterans exposed to asbestos may be eligible for VA benefits if they develop mesothelioma as the asbestos mesothelioma risk is high.. The Navy is the branch of the U.S. armed forces that used the most asbestos. Moreover, Navy veterans are at the most risk of acquiring mesothelioma because of the routine exposure to dangerously high amounts of cancer-causing asbestos in Navy ships and shipyards. Millions of soldiers serving in World War II alone were exposed to asbestos-filled materials and products used to build ships.
Mesothelioma is a devastating cancer. It is caused from the exposure to asbestos. The microscopic fibers released into one’s breathing zone and are at risk of being inhaled. Once inhaled, the fibers can become ensnared in the mesothelium, which is the lining of the lungs. The embedded asbestos fibers can later lead to the development of malignant pleural mesothelioma, a terminal disease.
According to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation), “…one-third of American mesothelioma patients were exposed while serving their country or working as civilians aboard Navy ships or in shipyards.
It is essential for Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos to understand how they were exposed, how the asbestos mesothelioma risk exists, and what benefits are available if they have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Asbestos Mesothelioma Risk in the Navy
Asbestos was used in the U.S. military for decades. Asbestos once referred to as the “miracle mineral.” It is a naturally occurring, fire-resistant ore that was used extensively in ships to protect against fires at sea. The demand for ships increased significantly during World War II. In order to meet the high and emergent demand, the U.S. military sought out asbestos manufacturers. The manufacturers presented asbestos as a versatile, resilient, insulative, and cost-effective material.
Asbestos could be found in every part and around every corner of a Navy vessel. Its presence extended from boiler rooms, dining rooms, to the ship’s sleeping quarters. It was used in naval vessels like minesweepers, destroyers, and cruisers. Naval serviceman working and installing asbestos-contaminated products inhaled thousands of asbestos fibers released into the air, increasing the asbestos mesothelioma risk. High concentrations of asbestos-filled dust were trapped in the enclosed spaces of the ships. The exposure also affected members who did not work with asbestos. For example, United States Marines who were being transferred on Navy vessels were also impacted.
U.S. Navy Was Aware of Health Hazards Associated with Asbestos
Records show that the Navy was aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure as early as 1939. Throughout the 1940s, Navy medical specialists produced more than a few memorandums and reports expressing the health threat and dangers of asbestos exposure. The asbestos mesothelioma risk was ignored, and asbestos-containing products and materials were used until the 1970s. However, members of the Navy were still at a high risk of exposure well into the 1990s when decommissioning or repairing remaining ships.
Between the late 1930s and mid-1960s, a significant amount of exposure and epidemiology information was gathered by a variety of scientific and governmental organizations. By the 1970s, mesothelioma was definitively linked to the exposure to amphibole asbestos.
Individual cases of lung cancer were recorded as early as 1935. London’s Richard Doll of the Medical Research Council published the very first epidemiological study which connected asbestos exposure to lung cancer. This indicated that an increased asbestos mesothelioma risk could exist at some accumulative dose of exposure to asbestos.
Mr. Doll reviewed 105 workers’ necroscopy records who were employed in occupations where they were exposed to the toxin. He categorized and designated the employees in two groups. Subjects who died from lung cancer were in one group labeled “asbestosis present.” The other group was referred to as “asbestosis absent.” According to a source, “…he also followed an additional 113 workers with at least 20 years of asbestos dust exposure, 39 of whom died during the study period. He concluded that ‘lung cancer was a specific hazard of certain asbestos workers and that the average risk among men employed for 20 or more years has been of the order of 10 times that experienced by the general population.’” 
Even with the overwhelming evidence of the health risks that asbestos caused, the Navy continued to require the use of materials containing asbestos on ships but did suggest that safety measures should be taken when handling asbestos. The Navy and other governmental organizations feared that other materials would not perform as well as asbestos.
According to a source, “…the Navy was arguably one of the most knowledgeable organizations in the world regarding the health hazards of asbestos, and that it attempted to implement procedures that would minimize the opportunity for adverse effects on both servicemen and civilians.”
Navy Veterans at Risk
Asbestos could be found on every part of a Navy vessel. It was use extended from boiler rooms to sleeping quarters. It was used in naval vessels like minesweepers, destroyers, and cruisers. Naval serviceman working and installing asbestos-contaminated products inhaled thousands of asbestos fibers released into the air. High concentrations of asbestos-filled dust were trapped in the enclosed spaces of the ships.
Navy shipyard workers covered in toxic asbestos dust would return home from work, causing secondhand exposure to their family members and increasing the asbestos mesothelioma risk. Laundering work clothes also caused asbestos fibers to release into the air to be inhaled or ingested.
The following occupations within the U.S. Navy were exposed to the highest amounts of asbestos:
- Firefighters and Fire Control Technicians
- Machinist Mates
- Engine Mechanics
- Hull and Boiler Technicians
- Water Tender
- Gunner’s Mates
- Welders and Steelworkers
Sadly, some service members wore hazardous equipment containing asbestos cloth. These materials include heat-resistant gloves or protective gear for firefighters and sailors using gun turrets.
The military used other asbestos-containing materials such as:
- Gaskets and Valves
- Floor and Pipe Coverings (Lagging)
Last year, the International Journal of Radiation Biology published a study examining the rates of mesothelioma in approximately 114,000 atomic veterans. The study’s subjects included atomic veterans that participated in nuclear weapons testing from 1945 to 1962. In this case, the veterans were only chosen because of the participation with nuclear weapons. The researchers found that the exposure to radiation was not a substantial risk factor in the contraction of mesothelioma.
Instead, the study confirmed that Navy personnel who worked closely with asbestos-containing products had the highest asbestos mesothelioma risk. The study concluded, “[t]he large excess of mesothelioma deaths seen among atomic veterans was explained by asbestos exposure among enlisted naval personnel. The sources of exposure were determined to be on navy ships in areas (or with materials) with known asbestos content. No excess of mesothelioma was observed in other services or among naval personnel with minimal exposure to asbestos in this low-dose radiation-exposed cohort.” This accounts for 56 percent more cases of mesothelioma in Navy veterans compared to the general public.
War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC)
The War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) is an agency of the United States Office of Public Health within the Department of Veteran Affairs. The center serves as a vital resource for veterans and their families.
According to the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, the following service members at the highest risk for asbestos exposure include service members who:
- Served on naval vessels whose keels were laid prior to 1983
- Worked on shipyards from the 1930s through and including the 1990s
- Worked below deck before the 1990s
- Worked without respiratory protection in engine rooms
Navy Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program (AMSP)
The Navy Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program (AMSP) was launched by the U.S. Navy in the late 1970s. The program was initiated to monitor the health of service members and civilian employees with the United States Department of the Navy. The program also extended to other branches of the armed forces who were exposed to cancer-causing asbestos.
The Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program assists the Navy by keeping detailed records of exposed members. Enrollment in the asbestos medical surveillance program is determined based upon a risk assessment evaluating an individual’s current industrial hygiene and interviews conducted by occupational health professionals.
The asbestos medical surveillance program is essential for veterans who were exposed to asbestos. It provides critical health monitoring services that could potentially detect asbesots mesothelioma risk and symptoms early, when it is the most treatable. It is also helpful for veterans applying for VA benefits because it documents any service-related exposure to asbestos.
U.S. Navy Veterans Benefits
Navy veterans are offered access to a wide variety of compensation and benefits through the VA and other agencies. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs provides free healthcare, survivor benefits, disability compensation, asbestos trust funds, and other crucial VA Benefits.
- Veteran Health Care – Navy veterans diagnosed with service-related mesothelioma are eligible for free healthcare through the VA.
- VA Special Monthly Compensation – Navy veterans may be entitled to special monthly compensation if they require a home health aide or who are bedridden. This also extends to parents of spouses of eligible veterans.
- Survivor Benefits (Dependency and Indemnity Compensation) – Survivor benefits are provided to spouses of Navy veterans who died of a service-related disability. The survivor benefit is monthly and starts at $1,300.
- VA Disability Claims – Mesothelioma caused as a result of asbestos in the Navy qualifies as a 100 percent disability. One hundred percent disability is the maximum amount of compensation offered through VA disability claims.
- Asbestos Trust Funds – Another potential compensation option outside of the VA is through asbestos trust funds. Compensation is usually in the six-figure range for mesothelioma claims.
- Legal Action – Navy Veterans also have the opportunity to file a lawsuit against the asbestos manufactures of the products they were exposed to during their service with the Navy.
Contacting an Experienced Mesothelioma Lawyer
If you or a loved one is a Navy veteran who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is critical to speak with a mesothelioma attorney as soon as possible. If you worked as a service member in the U.S. Navy, and you are concerned about the exposure to asbestos, it is best to contact your healthcare provider to schedule a medical screening.
A mesothelioma lawyer can help you explore your potential benefits. Additionally, a mesothelioma lawyer can help you find the compensation you or a loved one may be entitled to.
 Doll R. 1955. Mortality from lung cancer in asbestos workers. Br J Ind Med 12:81–86.